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The Third Crusade: the Siege of Acre (1189-91)

A modern photo of the ancient city of Acre.
A modern photo of the ancient city of Acre.,_Israel_(aerial_view,_2005).jpg

Saladin defeated the Christians at Hattin and captured Jerusalem. Likewise, Acre fell during this period. Meanwhile, the Muslims ransomed Jerusalem's King Guy as the Christians struggled to stave off extinction. Conrad of Montferrat blunted the Islamic wave at Tyre and moved to reconquer Acre. He faced a large enemy contingent, laid siege, but became besieged by Saladin. In the end, Richard the Lionheart arrived to save the Christians and inflict a decisive defeat upon the Muslims.

Conrad blamed Guy for the defeat at Hattin. The king owed his crown to a marriage alliance and his position degraded further when his wife, Queen Sibylla died. On the other hand, Conrad successfully defeated the Muslims at Tyre. When Guy arrived at Tyre to regain his position, Conrad refused to allow entry. Meanwhile, European Crusaders began arriving to rescue Jerusalem from Saladin. Guy managed to sway the Europeans to his side. Then, Guy decided to use Acre as a base to attack Saladin. Conrad eventually joined the foray against the Islamic leader.

The Crusaders arrived on August 28, 1189. The Muslims outnumbered the Christians, so Guy attempted to use surprise to capture the city. The initial attack failed, so Guy decided to surround the city and await reinforcements. Saladin rushed to dislodge Guy before the reinforcements arrived, but failed as well. As a result, the sultan besieged the besiegers.

Each side ushered in reinforcements, but no major activity took place for over a year. The Christians suffered under the arrangement as did Acre. Lack of food, water, and incidents of disease made life horrible. At the same time, the nobles worked hard to remove Guy from the kingship and replace him with Conrad. However, Guy refused to step aside despite no legal basis for his role. Eventually, Guy succumbed to the inevitable ending the power squabble. Meanwhile, Saladin broke through to the city with fresh troops and supplies in early 1191. However, the great conqueror failed to destroy Conrad and Guy, which led to his eventual defeat.

King Philip of France and King Richard of England arrived by the spring with large armies. Philip arrived first and used the time to build adequate siege engines. Philip’s efforts broke the siege when the engines broke Acre’s walls. Richard the Lionheart directed the assaults, which the Muslims repulsed. However, they knew continued resistance was futile and surrendered. Saladin realized there was nothing he could do except negotiate the final surrender with Richard. The two entered into a spat over the terms and each side massacred thousands of prisoners.

Acre was the lynchpin in the Crusader march toward Jerusalem. The victory allowed the Crusader army to continue toward Jerusalem with Saladin shadowing their movements. While the native Christians bickered amongst themselves, the European kings had divine authority, which subordinated Holy Land power politics. Richard and Saladin engaged again at Arsuf, which resulted in another Crusader triumph. Saladin was Islam’s best general and he failed to defeat Richard the Lionheart. The pattern would continue during the Third Crusade.

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